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So So Def at 20: How it all began

Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, Kris Kross, Xscape, and Bone Crusher tell the story of the iconic Atlanta label's rise

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FUNKDAFIED: Da Brat on stage at Opera in 2003.
  • CL File
  • FUNKDAFIED: Da Brat on stage at Opera in 2003.

Kelly: The backward clothes was something that we came up with later as a group, because we wanted to do something different. I've been wearing my pants backward for 20 years now. It's something that I'll probably do forever. I believe in sticking to your word, and if I say I'm going to do something, then I stick to it. I hate to compare it to a gang, but if you're in a gang, once you start, you never stop. That's the only thing I can compare it to.

Da Brat: We kept in touch and [Kris Kross] kept their word. And when I went to the "Oprah Winfrey Show," I saw J.D. and he was like, "Yeah, Chris and Chris told me about you. Come to Atlanta." So I'm looking at him like, I ain't got no money to be coming to Atlanta. But I had a few friends here that had a hookup, so my same godsister Dawn worked for TWA and she got me a buddy pass and we flew down to Atlanta. She had a buddy that worked at the Marriott Marquis and I got a room down there. I called Skeeter Rock. I called him to death and Dawn called him to death as well. She was acting as my manager. Just when we were getting discouraged, he finally called back. And long story short, J.D. came to the hotel, scooped us up in this white BMW convertible.

Dupri: She figured out some way to get into my car and put a tape in there. When I got in the car I started listening to it and it was her, she had made up some rap about her being part of So So Def. It was kinda clever, like, "Damn, she went that far?" It was a whole spiel, and she'd planted it so that I had to hear it.

Da Brat: We went to his house, hung out there, played video games. It was the prettiest house I had ever seen, especially on the inside. The whole downstairs was like a huge game room. I was like, "Oh yeah, I could live like this." He had a huge screen across the wall, movie-theater chairs, big ping-pong games and pool tables and the arcade-size video games. So, you know, I rapped for him and he liked it.

Coming from Chicago, to me, Atlanta was the music mecca even back then. I was so hungry that whatever he told me to do or whatever the topic was, I was on it so fast and we would just go back and forth. We wrote a couple of songs before we came up with "Funkdafied." But then one day he was in the studio and he was like, "Brat, come in here." I think I was playing NBA Live. He was sampling the Isley Brothers beat ["Between the Sheets"], and he started rapping. We had Manuel Seal, one of the producers of "Funkdafied," he started singing - he's from Chicago, too - and he got that old funk soul. So he started singing, [Brat hums the hook] "Oh oh oooh, oh oh oooh." And it was kinda jammin' and groovin'. Then J.D. started singing "so Funkdafied," and I was like, "Heyyy!"

Then it just went from there. He started throwing out lines; I started throwing out lines. He was like, "We gon' go back and forth." I was like, "OK." He would say one thing; I would say one thing. If we both agreed that it was dope, we'd keep it. And we just kept doing that till the song was finished.

Mauldin: At 19 years old, Jermaine was basically a millionaire, which is amazing, right? And I know a lot of people say, "Well, your dad was in the music business." Really, it wasn't that. I was a great guide for him. It definitely helped. But at the same time, I could not do it if he did not really have the talent.

In 1993, Dupri began a working relationship with a little-known local DJ who eventually would become the iconic force behind Atlanta's crunk sound. Jonathan Smith, aka Lil Jon, put his stamp on the label through a series of street releases known as the So So Def Bass All-Stars, which brought local bass music vets Raheem the Dream, DJ Smurf, and Playa Poncho together on one project.

Dupri: I met Lil Jon at this nightclub that used to be downtown called the Phoenix. He was DJing there. It was the only club that would let me in, 'cause I was like 19. They'd let me park my car out front and feel like I was cool. Security would walk me into the club and I used to always go holler at the DJ. When I started the label, we had a lot of positions we needed to fill. When it came to A&R, all I could think about was Lil Jon, because he was the person in the clubs. He knew people, DJs knew him. I had to hire him. I was telling Lil Jon we should start a project, and that he should do something he wanted to do. He recruited DJ Smurf, Shawty Redd, Playa Poncho, and all these people and he put together an album. Next thing I know, he brought it into my office and said it was the Bass All-Stars.

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